It’s incredibly frustrating to work with someone who can dish it out but can’t take it. In my previous post, I talked about the bad habits of these “porcupines” who are all prickly on the outside but have a soft, undefended underbelly. They tend to have double standards when it comes to doling out criticism, using humor targeted at someone, and hogging the spotlight.
If we can all agree that these people are annoying, infuriating, and exasperating, what can be done to disarm or at least discount them?
Just as the cougar, the fisher and the bobcat have learned cunning strategies to neutralize the porcupine’s thick and dangerous protective layer, so too can you. (If you don’t know the fisher, check out this cool audubon site.)
Dealing with the porcupine
- Don’t make them defensive: In its natural state, you can pet a porcupine’s quills with no adverse impact. But threaten him and suddenly that slick, smooth appearance transforms into a pin cushion of barbed needles. Coming from behind or doing anything to go straight at a porcupine is just going to land you with a snout full of quills. Ouch! The same is true for the prickly pear on your team. Most people are at their prickliest when they are protecting something–so you don’t want trigger a defensive reaction!
- Focus on the head: Turns out that the animals who successfully deal with porcupines focus first on the head. You can learn from them. Instead of reciprocating the cutting humor or nasty personal criticism, keep things on an intellectual rather than emotional plane. If you stay focused on the issue and engage the room in a logical discussion, the prickly ones will see that the battle is about smart strategies not about nasty weapons.
- Remember the underbelly: Always, always, always remember that the spines protect the underbelly. If you can figure out where it is, you flip the balance of power. What is making this person defensive? What insecurity or lack of control is making your teammate uncomfortable? Is there a way to relieve their stress? Can you empathize with their plight rather than experiencing them only as an adversary? Reframing will immediately change the power they have over you.
- Protect yourself: Animals that do well with porcupines have thick skins, rubbery lips, and a few other tricks up their sleeves (coats?). You need the same. Once you know that a teammate is a porcupine, you need to take fewer of their comments personally. Let them bounce off you rather than digging in.
It’s hard to love the porcupine on your team. At the very least, protect yourself. If you’re up for the adventure, try to neutralize them with both an effective defense and a smart offense. Share your porcupine stories and techniques in the comments so that everyone can benefit.